On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Groff v. DeJoy, 600 U.S. __________ (2023). The Court’s decision in Groff buttressed employees’ rights to reasonable workplace accommodations for their religious beliefs and practices.
The plaintiff, Gerald Groff, is a Christian who worked as a mailman. As a Christian, Groff believes that Sundays should be reserved for worship and rest—not for paid work. After the U.S. Postal Service began delivering packages for Amazon on Sundays, Groff’s unavailability for Sunday work became a concern at his workplace. The Postal Service worked around his unavailability, but disciplined him for it. In January of 2019, Groff resigned from the Postal Service because he expected to be fired. Groff then sued, claiming that he had suffered discrimination on the basis of religion. Two federal courts ruled in favor of the Postal Service, and Groff appealed to the Supreme Court.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of religion. In 1972, Congress amended Title VII, adding that “‘[t]he term “religion” includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.’” In the Groff case, the Court confronted the question of what constitutes an undue hardship.
In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court clarified its prior decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977). The Court ruled that an employer that incurs a non-trivial cost in accommodating an employee’s religious practice is not necessarily subjected to undue hardship. (According to the Daily Signal, this misunderstanding of the Hardison decision had created confusion.) Rather, the Groff Court held that to demonstrate undue hardship, “an employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” Accordingly, the Court vacated the appeals court’s decision in Groff and sent the case back to the lower courts for further consideration.
The Groff decision is a win for Gerald Groff because it gives him an opportunity to prove his case in accordance with the appropriate rule of law. It is a win for other Christians—and for persons of other faiths—in that it does not allow employers to cry “undue hardship” simply because they incur slight costs or small inconveniences by accommodating employees’ religious practices.